To Make an Impact, Ditch Unnecessary Anxiety and Unwarranted Blame
I tossed and turned much of last night worrying that an email I sent to someone had been too critical. You know the feeling that starts just after you press the send button and immediately wish you hadn’t?
But this morning I found a genuinely appreciative email from the guy, thanking me for my unvarnished opinion!
Also this morning, I got an email from a colleague who I have been trying to reach, but who has not been responsive to my call of several days ago. I figured I must have done something to offend him. And that, too, rolled around my brain. But instead, I learned that he had just received my message and felt bad for the delay.
In one morning, I had two episodes of thinking incorrectly that I had done something wrong—two pieces of baggage clogging parts of my brain with worry rather than happy thoughts—and it wasn’t even 10 a.m.
Do you find yourself in this position at work? Do you wake up worrying that the email you sent the night before to a donor prospect was somehow too pushy? Or that you haven’t heard back from a board member for three days because the help you asked for was too demanding?
It’s normal to experience anxious feelings about how you deal with others in the workplace, especially in nonprofits, which are so relationship-based. If you do something to damage a relationship, it’s a major blow.
But are those feelings of anxiety and dread sucking up the energy and confidence you need to raise money and make a positive impact on the world?
Deep-Six Unwarranted Apologies
When you’re anxious about your behavior, you are putting yourself in the wrong. This can lead to constant apologizing, of which I am guilty.
Over the past several months, I’ve worked hard to stop myself from apologizing all the time. I edit dozens of emails I write that start out, “I’m so sorry I didn’t get this to you sooner…” replacing them with “Here’s the information I promised you…” I’ve been astonished by the number of times I find myself wanting to apologize when I’ve done nothing wrong. Gradually, I’m weaning myself off that habit.
But if this morning’s experience is a good indicator—and I suspect it is—then despite not apologizing overtly, I still put myself in the wrong, assuming that I’ve done something I shouldn’t have done.
I’m afraid that clearing the apologetic mindset may take longer to undo than the email apology habit.
Stop. Breathe. Look Closer.
Don’t get me wrong. There are times when things I do really aren’t good, and I should apologize. But I want to clear my brain of the anxiety and discomfort that comes from taking on blame unnecessarily. I don’t want unfounded feelings draining my productivity and positivity. I want to be free to do my best work.
Check yourself: Do you carry around unwarranted mental baggage? Do you blame yourself for things you didn’t do? Do you have a tendency to apologize for all sorts of silly things?
When you feel those little bags of self-blame taking shape in your mind, ask yourself these three questions:
- Did I really do something wrong?
- Do I have confirmation that it was wrong?
- Can I just let it go?
If the answer to the third question is "no," then rather than waiting, check to see if your anxiety is justified. Chances are good that it’s not and then you’ll be able to let it go.
My Challenge to You
This week, push yourself to become more aware of those little sacks of unwarranted anxiety and see whether you can let them fall away. Take note on how your work is affected by the anxiety, and if you can, let it fall away. Who needs to be distracted by those pesky worries? Certainly not you! You’ve got more important and constructive things to do.
Andrea Kihlstedt is an innovative leader and expert in capital campaign fundraising. She wrote "Capital Campaigns: Strategies That Work (4th ed)," often referred to as the “bible” of capital campaign fundraising. She founded Capital Campaign Masters and co-founded Capital Campaign Toolkit, an online capital campaign resource and platform.